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F1 Academy Driver Bianca Bustamante: "I'll make it to F1"

F1 Academy Driver Bianca Bustamante on McLaren, Confidence and Gym Buddy Lando Norris

Bianca Bustamante (PHL, ART Grand Prix)

Image Source: McLaren Racing and Optimum Nutrition

When I think back to being 19 years old, I have vivid flashbacks of nights out in my local nightclub (if you could even call one very sticky dance floor a club), One Direction posters on my bedroom wall and a Pinterest board full of very bad tattoo ideas — a far cry from the life of 19-year-old F1 Academy driver, Bianca Bustamante who, in a serious "pinch me" moment, I got the chance to speak to this week.

To put my personal driving skills into context, the way I used to know I'd reversed far enough out of my driveway was when I had physically hit the bin shed at the bottom. Luckily, thanks to TfL, I never really drive anymore. However, what I may lack in personal driving skills, I make up for in my complete and utter obsession with Formula 1 and more recently, F1 Academy.

As a true believer in "anything men can do, women can do better" I've been following the all-female racing series since its inception in 2023. An initiative launched by Formula 1, the F1 Academy is a single-seater championship featuring 15 drivers across five teams. This year, not only has Scottish racing driver Susie Wolff stepped in as managing director and makeup mogul Charlotte Tilbury signed up as the official sponsor, but all 10 Formula 1 teams are representing a driver on the grid as well. ART Grand Prix driver Bustamante is represented by McLaren for the 2024 season.

Whether you know anything about the sport or not, I bet images of yachts in Monaco, Rolex watches and the world's biggest celebrities spring to mind. It's not only the lack of opportunities for women that have previously stopped young, female drivers breaking through, it's also the financial element as well. "That's why the F1 Academy is so important," Bustamante tells PS UK. "Young drivers, like me, come straight from karting where financially I could never afford a seat in F4. It's allowing us to start somewhere and hopefully make it to Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1."

As if being an F1 Academy driver wasn't inspiring enough, Bustamante is also the first female driver to join the McLaren Driver Development program, something she's dreamt of since a young age. "I just never thought it would be a reality," she says. "Lewis Hamilton is one of my heroes as well and he started at McLaren."

Still a teenager, Bustamante packed her bags and moved across the world for this opportunity, proving her commitment to the sport. "Imagine bringing this young girl from the Philippines across the world and all of a sudden living this type of life. It is quite incredible," she tells PS UK. But she's not just doing this for herself, she's doing it for the younger generation of female drivers as well. "I feel like it doesn't just open doors for me, but for every aspiring young girl and boy who dreams of being a racing driver but doesn't come from a very wealthy background".

According to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, women now make up 40 percent of the F1 fanbase but the sport hasn't actually seen a female driver since 1992, something Bustamante is ready to change. "It's not just like, 'Oh, maybe I'll make it to F1 one day.' It's 'I will make it to F1 one day,'" she says without stuttering. However, the young driver understands it's going to take more than just her dedication to reach the top, including a tough training regime. "You need to get every edge you can," the McLaren driver explains. "Before getting in the car, I have to make sure that I've eaten enough protein. That's why it's so important to have the support from different brands like Optimum Nutrition."

Off the track, Bustamante reveals that she's working closely with a sports psychologist to look after her mental health as well. "Confidence is everything," the driver tells me. It's only as we're getting candid about the pressure she feels day-to-day that I realise just how young 19 really is. "I'd say I'm still very much a teenager, so I get scared, I get nervous, I cry, I get emotional," she says and I have to say, it's very admirable.

"I think the best advice I've been given is to never fear failure. You can fear anything. You can fear crashing, you can fear not winning, but failing? You should never fear it."

To add to her accomplishments, Bustamante is also the third most followed female driver on the planet with over 2.8 million followers across TikTok and Instagram. "You know, racing is my first love and I'm sharing my love story with the whole world," she says. Her advice for dealing with any negative comments? Don't fixate on them. She likes to take a moment to acknowledge how it made her feel without bottling it down and just ignoring it. After she's done that, she can move on in a happier, healthier state of mind.

As our time is coming to an end, it's the part where as a journalist it's my duty to throw in a slightly questionable-but-entertaining question which is how I wound up finding out that Bustamante doesn't actually watch TV. When I asked the driver what her Real-Housewives-style tagline for the F1 Academy Netflix documentary would be, she reveals she "feels guilty after watching TV". She says: "You watch one episode and then you've watched the whole season in the span of two days and then you've done nothing." A-ha! *punches the air*. So I DO have something in common with an F1 driver!

And finally, as a McLaren fan, it felt only right to see if Lando Norris had given her any words of advice. Not only is Norris her gym buddy at the McLaren Technology Centre, he's also given her some first-hand tips for racing around the difficult circuits. "He was telling me about the change of asphalt and dealing with dirty air which is obviously very insightful," Bustamante reveals.

But it's McLaren F1 team principal Andrea Stella who's really taken her under his wing: "He's like my favourite person, well, everyone's favourite person. I love Andrea. He's super Italian, and he's so McLaren. He's so calm and composed and I feel safe when I'm talking to him."

And with that, it was all too much for little Chloe Dunn (iykyk).

Bianca Bustamante was speaking on behalf of Optimum Nutrition, the Official Sports Nutrition Partner of McLaren Racing.

Chloe Dunn is a senior social content producer at PS UK. With more than six years of experience in social media marketing, she is always on the lookout for the latest viral buzz. Working across Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Pinterest, Chloe specialises in bringing people together and building global communities online. She has previously worked in the live music industry, including at a major record label and for the UK's biggest group of music venues.

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